10 Rules for Selling Your Home on Your Own

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — With the volatile housing market plaguing most of the country over the past several years, it’s common to hire a real estate agent to handle the sale of your home.

In an environment in which one-quarter of homeowners are underwater (meaning the value of their mortgage exceeds the value of the home), if you’re about to put your home on the market for sale, hiring an agent may be too costly.

While they offer significant expertise and marketing benefits, the 4% to 6% commission fee will put you at risk of walking away from your home with an even larger loss, not to mention any possible profits.

We asked real estate experts to weigh in on selling your home yourself. Although time consuming and stressful, keeping the commission fee might be worth the trouble.

1. Pricing

One of the most important aspects of selling your home is setting the price. Home prices are primarily based off of what similar homes in your area have sold for in recent months.

If you were to hire a real estate agent, they would typically do this research and determine an appropriate price. When selling the home on your own, it’s up to you to do the homework and price your house accordingly.

“List and sell your home according to the norms of your community. You will stand out just by being a ‘for sale by owner’ alone. But if you can match the rest of the market in terms of how you market, price and sell the home, you will be in better shape,” says real estate expert Brendon DeSimone.

2. Advertising

Selling your home requires you to get the word out. Agents generally have the leg up when it comes to access to some of the most popular real estate websites.

“Not all real estate search sites allow for sale by owner listings – for example, Zillow.com does, but Trulia.com doesn't. And those that do often require you post the open houses early in the week, while newspaper sites often require them by Wednesday the week before,” says Doug Perlson, co-founder and CEO of New York-based brokerage RealDirect.com.

You may also have to cough up several hundred dollars for a weekly spot in the real estate section of your local newspaper in print and online – though this cost is still cheaper than giving up a percentage of the sale price to a realtor.

3. Open houses

Prospective buyers will want a tour of your home, which is typically held on weekends during “open houses.” That means you’ll have to set aside a few hours each weekend to invite buyers into your home.

“Be sure to have a sign-in sheet and get the name of the buyer. Don't ask for too much info – buyers don't want to fill out a long form, but name and email address is appropriate,” Perlson adds.

Some buyers might be coming to your home with their own real estate agents. If you are willing to pay a commission to the buyer’s brokers, Perlson suggests holding onto the broker’s contact information, too.

4. Keeping up with the competition

An open house is effective only if buyers show up!

“Those selling their homes by owner often hold open houses every weekend and then wonder why their attendance it so low.  A good agent knows that it's not practical to have an open house every week and is often a waste of time. I recommend a two-hour open house the first week a home is on the market and then no more than two times per month,” Perlson advises.

He says buyers who have serious interest in buying your home can make an appointment. “Also consider when competitive homes on the market are having their open houses – it's a good idea to piggyback on their dates/times to attract the most buyers,” he says.

5. Make the process easy for the buyer

Chances are you’re going to be one of the only houses in the neighborhood that’s “for sale by owner.” That means you’re competing with other homes being sold by experienced real estate professionals.

When a buyer walks into a home sold by an agent, they’ll leave the home with a brochure and typically a booklet of professional pictures of the home.

When selling your home by owner, create your own brochures or fact-sheets to hand out to prospective buyers. Include your contact information to make it easy for the buyer to get in touch, in case your home has piqued their interest.

Additionally, you may want to set up a special website devoted to your home to give buyers another resource for information.

6. Prepping the home for sale

While you’re thinking about pricing and advertising, it’s time to get your home in the best shape possible to make a strong impression during open houses.

“Pay attention to the smaller details that a potential buyer may take notice of – consider washing windows, dusting blinds, laundering curtains, dusting baseboards, cleaning appliances and straightening up your closets,” Perlson says.

Additionally, keep the countertops and home office areas clear of paperwork, bills and clutter.

7. Staging

When staging your home, put yourself in the shoes of a buyer. Think of ways to rearrange furniture to make the room more open and inviting.

Remove excessive artwork or family photos if it makes the room too overwhelming from the buyer’s perspective.

8. The front lawn matters

When driving down your street, it should be very clear your home is up for sale. Agents will have fancy signs on the front lawn with a prominent logo of the real estate firm.

A simple “For Sale By Owner” sign from a home improvement store can’t compete. Instead, visit your local printing shop for a customized sign, which should include a phone number for you. Once you have the sign, buy or make a pole at your local lumbar yard.

9. Legal

Once you start to get offers, it’s time to hire a real estate lawyer to help write up and decode the complex contracts.

While lawyers aren’t cheap, think of the money you’re saving by not having to pay a real estate agent commission fee. Cutting corners by trying to handle the process on your own could end up costing you in the long run.

10. Are you up for the challenge?

As you can see, selling your home by owner is no easy or overnight task. Especially if your area is a buyer’s market, where the seller is at a disadvantage due to many homes being on the market, expect the process to take several months.

“I always tell people that for-sale-by-owner is not for everyone. For the people who have the time and are 100% on top of it, it can mean huge savings. But it can become a part-time job in the weeks and months leading up and a full-time job while for sale and in escrow,” DeSimone warns.

Weigh the pros and cons before committing to selling your home by owner.

Gamm is the founder of the personal finance website HelpSaveMyDollars.com. He has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, MSNBC and CNN. Follow Scott on Facebook and Twitter.

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